On the day Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton added her voice to the rising campaign chorus on covering the uninsured, U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman came to Connecticut to ask what policy-makers here think should be done to provide care for everyone.
"The status quo is not working," Lieberman told a group representing state agencies, business leaders, insurance companies, health care providers and consumers. "There is a real receptivity to find a practical solution."
Lieberman, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, said he convened the forum at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford so he could return to Washington with a better idea of what solutions might work best in his home state.
He got an earful, although most of the ideas have been discussed publicly before.
Michael P. Starkowski, commissioner of the state Department of Social Services, said the state's Husky plan for low-income children and their parents has already gone a long way toward bridging the insurance gap.
Starkowski urged Lieberman to press his colleagues to reauthorize the so-called SCHIP program, which pays for Husky and is set to expire on Oct. 1 without congressional action.
House and Senate negotiators on Sunday said they had reached a tentative agreement on a framework for compromise on SCHIP that would expand enrollment to an additional 4 million uninsured children nationwide.
But the expansion is expensive, and President Bush has repeatedly threatened a veto.
To help working-poor families that may not be able to afford to buy into employer-sponsored insurance plans, Starkowski said the state should help pay employee insurance premiums to encourage more people to accept available coverage.
Business and insurance leaders Monday repeated their proposal to reduce health care costs by encouraging lifestyle changes, such as dieting, exercise and smoking cessation, which could reduce the incidence and severity of chronic diseases, such as heart trouble and diabetes.
Advocates for the elderly reminded Lieberman that nursing home care accounts for the most expensive part of Medicaid, the government health care program for low-income people. Policies that encourage home care and disease prevention also could lead to lower costs and better care, they said.
Lieberman said he hoped that Monday's forum would be the first of many discussions with Connecticut health policy leaders. And if history is any guide, he should have plenty of time.
Members of Congress and others have said there is virtually no chance that substantive changes can be made to the nation's health care system in the next several years.
Lieberman Monday called that assessment "a damn shame."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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